days of a single model for marriage are over. Now there are multiple
models. It’s no longer the rule for the man to bear the sole
responsibility for bringing home the proverbial bacon while the woman is
responsible for caring for the home and children. In some marriages it
is the woman who is the primary wage-earner while the man assumes the
role of homemaker and primary care-giver. As women’s roles change in our
society so does the nature of marriage change. Therefore, alternative
models to the traditional one where Dad brings home the bacon and Mom is
takes care of the home had to evolve.
most common model alternative is the two-career family. In this model
both the husband and wife have committed themselves to the pursuit of a
career. Two-career families are different from the families where women
have worked to help with the family finances. In the two career family
it isn’t only necessity that places both husband and wife in the market
place, but choice. Each partner chooses to follow a career or take a job
to achieve both financial rewards and personal fulfillment. In many
instances financial necessity has no bearing on this choice.
working with couples where there are two careers and/or the merging of
two families, I often suggest that the couple spend some time developing
an intimate contract or marriage handbook. In developing these
handbooks or contracts as much attention is paid to the process of communicating and negotiating as to the content of the contract.
couples can benefit from an intimate contract. Even couples who have
been married for many years. After years of marriage, it is often
necessary to re-negotiate the marriage to keep it vital and relevant for
current circumstances. The same roles may not be appropriate after the
children have left the nest or after retirement. After years of
marriage, as people grow and change, so do expectations and desires
change. The marital contract can revitalize the marriage. It can
facilitate dispute resolution and communication, reduce
misunderstandings, and free individuals to deal with each other’s
feelings more directly. More often than not, marital disputes begin as
an argument about some issue that can be negotiated. The content of the
argument is less important that the feelings being expressed. When
couples learn to negotiate disputes, and contract for settlements, they
are then free to deal with the underlying feelings and emotions.
The prenuptial agreement is an opportunity to articulate implicit and
explicit expectations. Most marital conflicts occur because of the
hidden expectations each person brings to the marriage. These
expectations often are not met leaving at least one party disappointed,
hurt, or resentful. The focus during the negotiating of a prenuptial
agreement should be on each person’s beliefs, expectations, and values
regarding marriage, themselves, and their partner. Implicit expectations
should be made explicit.
encourage my clients to include all aspects of the relationship in
their pre-and post-marital agreements, everything from child-rearing and
religion to whose responsibility it is to take out the garbage and
finances. Particularly when both spouses work full-time, an accord
should be reached in advance over such mundane items as: whose job it is
to walk the dog, to pay the bills, wash the laundry, cook, grocery
shop, etc. It is surprising how emotionally charged these simple issues
can be, simply because one assumed the other would do this or
that; bringing everything out in the open eliminates these assumptions.
Financial matters are often the most difficult. Therefore, I suggest
that they should be saved until last, when both parties feel a vested
interest in the success of the negotiating process.
A Model of Communication
process of negotiating agreements serves as a model for learning how to
negotiate within the relationship; it can be a very intimate process.
Indeed, learning the process of developing an agreement can be the most important outcome. During the negotiations the couple learns to compromise, listen, communicate, and understand.
enters marriage with hidden expectations—often even hidden from
oneself. Consciously or subconsciously, these expectations and beliefs
affect every aspect of the relationship, and insofar as they can be made
explicit—and communicated—the relationship automatically improves. Each
person comes to understand exactly what the other believes about
marriage and why a particular item was included in the contract. It is
easier to accept a spouse’s desires when you understand the importance
he or she attaches to them.
A Foundation of Understanding
contract has a preamble that sets out the general intent of the
agreement rather than plunging into the specifics. The intent of the
marital agreement is not for planning a divorce, but rather to smooth
the way for future discussions. It is an opportunity to openly discuss
issues in an atmosphere of caring. It is essential to spend considerable
time and effort building a foundation of trust and understanding. This
phase of the negotiations can serve to set the overall tone and intent
of the agreement.
close relationships have intimacy and organizational aspects to them.
Lovers are primarily concerned with the interpersonal issues while
roommates may be concerned with the maintenance issues. Marital
relationships involve both sides, business and interpersonal. The
business or organizational component of a relationship deals with those
everyday issues that give continuity to the relationship without having
to spend endless time and energy dealing with the details of living
together. Once these issues have been agreed to the couple is free to
spend time and energy deepening the relationship.
I have observed that the strain of dealing with the business side often
has caused a breach in the relationship. Living with someone in a love
relationship is very complex to begin with. Modern life is not simple
particularly when people are trying to balance two-careers, child-care,
romance, day-to-day home repairs, social life, and some personal time.
Therefore, it is necessary that the relationship be given a great deal
of attention and planning in all areas.
couples argue about concrete issues such as who take out the trash or
who is the bigger slob as cover-up for some other emotional issue which
one or both parties are unwilling to confront, e.g., not feeling loved
or appreciated. Sometimes the underlying issue is obscured by anxiety or
is even unconscious at the moment. The concrete issue becomes a
convenient focus for letting off steam without directly addressing the
Developing the Contract
These are some of the most important purposes of the contract:
1) learning how to negotiate
2) separating business from interpersonal issues
3) listing responsibilities
4) defining interpersonal needs
5) developing child-care philosophy and responsibility
6) negotiating consequences in case of default
During the development of this list it is important for the participants to question (not
challenge) each other as to the basis of the request. If we can
understand the intent of the request, or what the request means to the
other person, we are more likely to find various methods of dealing with
the issue. It is easier to agree to something if we understand the
underlying intent, reason, or motivation.
the business side of the relationship is negotiated we can examine, and
subsequently negotiate interpersonal issues. While we cannot control or
contract for feelings, we can negotiate for time and activities that
allow for the interpersonal growth and intimacy. One can negotiate for
special time during the week, say a date for dinner alone mid-week. A
decision can be made that each evening the couplee coupheeee will go for
a walk together to discuss the day’s events or share feelings.
Vacations can be negotiated, whether they are a short camping trip or a
longer one. The time that one retires in the evening and how long one
spends at work, as well as whether work is brought home, all are open
contracts, whether by couples or families, can be challenging, fun, and
rewarding. Couples who have experimented with the contract have found
that the process of working on the contract brought them and their
family closer. With greater intimacy, the dynamic life of the two-career
family becomes an exciting adventure. The development of the contract
and making it work can become a family project to which all members can
Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Divorce Mediator, and
Life Coach, whose goal is to help people maximize their potential and
achieve their goals. He is a licensed psychologist, certified sex
therapist, and licensed marriage and family therapist. He has been in
practice for over three decades with clinical specialties in sex
therapy, divorce and relationship counseling, individual and group
psychotherapy. His recent books, Someone Right for You and Keeping Your Sanity are available through Amazon.com. He can be reached [email protected]; visit his website at www.docdreyfus.com.
The above article is excerpted from Dr. Dreyfus’s book Keeping Your Sanity which is also available directly through www.xlibris.com/keepingyoursanity